Sometimes after a period of being together, a separation happens. Often it is not the fault of either party. I had three different houses last week with a no-fault separation, and thought it might be time for a post.
The couple on the right has been at least near each other for 10 years. At one time they were happily married, but pressures and tensions finally got the best of the relationship, and they were forced to separate. The gap you see between the large conduit under the meter box and the box itself opened up some time after the construction of the house.
Seldom is soil around a house sufficiently compacted. Things settle. Often the soil settles 6, 8, 10, or 12 inches! In this case the soil must have settled about 8 inches, judging from the distance between it and the foundation paint.
As it settled it put pressure on the underground conduit protecting the service conductors. Eventually the pressure became too great for the connection under the meter -- you can see that it completely snapped off, and is still probably slowly pulling apart. You can also see that the caulking has been affected.
This will eventually become a problem. In this case it was a problem. The three large cables between the conduit and box are the electrical service conductors. They are carrying the electrical load to the house. The house was intended to use 200amps for its needs.
When a conduit like this opens up the gap can admit water. In this case it has, apparently for some time.
Inside the house, half the house registered about 40 volts! The other half registered almost 160! An acceptable voltage range would be in the neighborhood of 108 - 130. Exactly 120 volts is ideal and happens when the neutral line properly divides the 240 volts of power to the house in half. Looseness in (or damage to) the neutral service conductor can cause wild fluctuations in voltage. Anything different than that can cause many problems. Appliances and fixtures don't want too much or too little voltage - motors can literally burn up and light bulbs will burn out.
The conductors are aluminum. If even the smallest hole in the conductor's insulation exists and the aluminum is exposed to water, over time that aluminum will react and literally powderize. Eventually one or the other of these conductors will completely dissolve and service to the house will terminate. It is not a cheap fix when this happens.
There is another issue. The settlement also affected the electric meter box. It too settled, though its movement stopped when the conduit separated.
This is aluminum siding and you can see that underneath there is no plastic wrap. The wood sheathing is exposed to moisture intrusion. Just as water does not mix with electrical, it does not mix with wood either, especially when the wood cannot dry out afterward.
The living room wall and floor molding demonstrated staining exactly under where this box connects to the house. And we know where the water came from.
What's the solution to this problem? During construction some builders, those with good foresight, will create a slip joint where the conduit under the meter box is larger than the one bringing the service conductors to the house. The joint leaves plenty of room for settlement. When this is done, the soil can settle as much as it wants and the conductors are never exposed to water. Admittedly, 10 years ago such slip joints were not common. But I still see this problem on newer homes, unfortunately. Sometimes common sense and history do not get the message through...
My recommendation: go out and look at the connection under your electric meter. If there is no slip joint, you could be facing a problem sometime soon. It is MUCH easier to handle this proactively before it happens than after.
Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC
Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.
Office (703) 330-6388 Cell (703) 585-7560